Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder are on the hunt for a reliable cannabis breathalyzer. Dozens of states now allow access to medical or recreational cannabis, but law enforcement institutions in the United States have largely been against cannabis reform efforts.
On top of complicating law-enforcement efforts, these institutions say legalization will increase driving under the influence rates across the country. While data from several states shows no correlation between cannabis reform and higher traffic incident rates, the lack of a proper cannabis drug test is a major issue.
The breathalyzer has a long history of accurately testing alcohol levels on-site, but we still don’t have tests that can check cannabis intoxication rates. Now that tens of millions of Americans have access to marijuana, there is an urgent need for reliable cannabis breathalyzers to aid in the policing of driving under the influence and prevent nonintoxicated people from being penalized due to inaccurate tests.
Current tools regularly fail to provide accurate blood cannabis levels and often cannot correlate these levels with intoxication at the moment, meaning Americans can be penalized for having THC in their blood even if they aren’t necessarily intoxicated at the moment. The lack of proper tools has left many law enforcement officials searching for a way forward.
Sgt. Roger Meyers from the Colorado State Patrol says the agency has decided not to use the cannabis breathalyzers currently on the market. University of Colorado Boulder associate professor of cognitive science Cinnamon Bidwell says the tools currently in use simply aren’t a good system. He says researchers at the university are working to develop a reliable tool as fast as they can to meet market demand for a marijuana breathalyzer. According to an initial report from a new study, the development of such a tool is gaining promise in terms of gaining scientific information and using the device to help make law enforcement in transportation safe and fair.
Bidwell says that the potential for roadside testing will be incredibly critical for public safety but explains that it will take a lot of research steps before scientists can even establish if a marijuana breathalyzer will be suitable for use by public safety officers. He explains that comparing a marijuana breathalyzer with an alcohol breathalyzer is akin to likening apples to pinecones because only very small amounts of cannabis remain in the body after ingestion.
The fact that marijuana stays in the system longer also makes it difficult to determine a timeline of consumption, especially in people who consume the drug regularly. An accurate test would require plenty of work from the ground up to learn how different cannabis strains affect people, to share this knowledge to troopers and to develop tools that can accurately test cannabis intoxication levels.
The entire cannabis industry, including major companies such as Aurora Cannabis Inc. (NASDAQ: ACB) (TSX: ACB), would welcome a reliable way to identify people who are driving while intoxicated or those who use cannabis while at work. This would prevent innocent people from being victimized for false positives arising from cannabis use that occurred days or even months prior.
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